Brandt Snedeker, Angel Cabrera share Masters lead, Tiger Woods four shots back
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Saturday was supposed to be Moving Day at the Masters Tournament. It was, but not the way we expected.
The biggest move came from observers who reached to attach an asterisk to this event, which will surely be remembered as the Masterisk* Tournament after a rules controversy in which Tiger Woods drew a two-shot penalty -- but not the usual disqualification -- after an incorrect drop a day earlier.
The drama played out all morning on television and the Internet and if you missed it, well, welcome back from your spelunking escapade. But by mid-afternoon, the golf overcame this gigantic distraction because, hey, it's the Masters. It's Saturday. Big stuff happens.
Yes, there were movers and shakers, butchers and bakers on a gloriously sunny afternoon here at Augusta National.
The stage is now set for a wild finish in a wide-open Masterisk* -- er, Masters. The cast of contenders for Sunday's drama is a big one.
Brandt Snedeker and Angel Cabrera each shot 69 and share the lead at 7 under par. Adam Scott also shot 69 and was at 6 under, with Jason Day missing two short par putts on 17 and 18 to card a 73 and finish 5 under along with Marc Leishman (72). Scott, Day and Leishman are each well-positioned to become the first Australian to win the Masters.
Behind them are Matt Kuchar (69, 4 under), followed by Woods (70) and diminutive Tim Clark (67), both at 3 under. More than a dozen players could still win this thing; 13 players are within five strokes of the lead.
The man getting most of the attention Sunday, as usual, will be Tiger. Despite playing one of the most disastrous and, it must be said, unlucky holes in the history of the Masters on Saturday -- his penalty-stroke padded 8 on 15, when a 4 seemed like more than a possibility -- he clawed back with a 70 and is tied for seventh. He has only six players in front of him. "I'm right there in the ball game," Woods said, sounding confident and delighted with his position. "I'm four back with a great shot to win this championship."
You practically need a program to keep track of all these players. We're here to help, so here's your guide to Who's Who and Who's Where at the Masterisk*:
The Shakers: Nobody shakes the ground or the cathedral of pines like Tiger, who crawled not-so-quietly back into contention after that notable penalty but let some key opportunities slip. His eagle putt at the eighth did a 400-degree swivel around the cup and stayed out -- "I've never seen a horseshoe like that one," he said later. After birdies at 12 and 13, he missed a 10-footer for eagle at 15. Just when he had a chance to really gain some ground at the end, he hit errant shots and had to scramble for pars on each of the last three holes, which he did brilliantly.
As for DropGate, Tiger said he first heard about it Saturday morning when contacted by his agent, Mark Steinberg. "I got a text from Steiney that said, 'Call me,'" Woods said, laughing. "It's never a good thing when that happens." Woods accepted the two-shot penalty -- he made a mistake, he said -- but said he never considered disqualifying himself because he went along with the decision made by the tournament rules officials. "I'm abiding by the rules," he said.
Tiger's bottom line: He's in a position to make that asterisk stick.
The Movers: They shot matching 69s, yes, but that's where the similarities ended for co-leaders Snedeker and Cabrera. The boyish, mop-haired Snedeker played smart, conservative golf, opened with 12 straight pars, took advantage of the par-5 13th and 15th holes, and didn't make a bogey. Cabrera, the Argentine who's already won a Masters and a U.S. Open, was all over the lot with six birdies and three bogeys. His unexpected birdie at the 18th put him in Sunday's final twosome.
Maybe they weren't who we were expecting to wind up on top, but they're here now and they're formidable. Snedeker is the best putter on Tour and Cabrera is a power player with the experience of two major wins under his ample belt.
"I didn't put myself in trouble at all," Snedeker said. "This is a golf course that baits you to go after pins you shouldn't go after. You've got to pick your spots." Clark, another mover, made it look easy despite a final-hole bogey. His sharp iron play helped him make five birdies and shoot 31 on the front nine. He's one of the big players in the fight against the proposed anchored-putting ban, since he wields a long putter with middling success. Saturday, it was way better than middling.
"I don't believe it's that much of a putting contest here," Clark said. "You've got to hit the ball so good around here and control your irons. That's really all I did today. Yesterday, I missed 10 putts inside eight feet. I've driven it great, and to shoot a round like this you've got to finally start making putts."
Even though he's a short hitter, Clark is among the most accurate iron players on Tour and Augusta National is a second-shot golf course. He's a legitimate threat.
Kuchar is, too. He keeps winning successively bigger tournaments, from the Players last year to the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in February. Kuchar shot 33 on the front and cruised into sixth place, just three shots back. He made his charge by making birdies on all four par-5 holes. "I would say that's a good feat because even though they're all potential birdie holes, they're all potential bogey holes, too," he said. "Around this place, you take what the course gives you."
The Bakers: That would be the greens. A warm sun helped firm up the greens that had been unusually receptive the first day, if not necessarily the second. The average score Saturday was 73.852, which was almost as high as Friday's average (74.183).
"There are some crispy, fast, fast putts," said Sandy Lyle, who shot 81. "The greens are getting ridiculously fast. It's almost a bit of Disney World."
The Casualties: Phil Mickelson played the last four holes 1 under par just to salvage 77. "I just played terrible, there's no way around it," Mickelson said. "It is certainly disappointing."
Yes, he's the guy who complained about the course being too easy in the opening round. On the bright side, Mickelson's Sunday tee time will be just 10 minutes after that of Tianlang Guan, the 14-year-old sensation from China who failed to make a birdie for a second straight day and fell back with a 77. Maybe they can hang.
Rory McIlroy had a pair of 7s on the back nine (triple bogey at 11, double at 15) and shot himself out of the tournament with a 79. He was one under on the day and three under for the tournament through six holes and on the leaderboard, then played the last eight holes in eight over with a back-nine 42.
"It's disappointing, especially after such a good start," McIlroy said. "I felt like I was playing well. Basically, my chances in the tournament are gone."
The clock struck midnight for Cinderella story Fred Couples, 53, who was gamely hanging near the lead at five under par after a birdie at the par-5 13th. Then he three-putted the 14th, missing a short putt, bogeyed 15 and collapsed in a heap with a triple bogey at 17. He shot 77 and is tied for 18th place with Justin Rose (75) and Jason Dufner (75).
The Aussies: Day showed new-found maturity by playing smart and opening with 12 straight pars. Leishman, who won in Hartford last summer, made five birdies to cancel out his five bogeys and remain in the midst of it all. Scott finished strong with birdies on 15 and 17, unlike his meltdown at last year's British Open.
Of course that meltdown, at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, was on Sunday. We still have one day left at the Masters and no Aussie has ever won here, which is likely to ratchet up the pressure even further should one of the aforementioned three players find himself with one arm in the green jacket.
"It's just a fact," Scott said of the Aussie shutout. "Three of us are right there knocking on the door tomorrow."
A lot of players will be knocking on that door. Only one will walk through it.